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Pot incident lit a fire in Cubs’ Geovany Soto

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



The term is casually used almost every time somebody talks or writes about Geovany Soto’s wrong-way follow-up to his 2008 National League Rookie of the Year season.

But it was no ‘‘sophomore jinx’’ that zapped Soto.

It was that positive marijuana test during the World Baseball Classic, before the 2009 season ever started, that hung over him until the results finally were made public halfway through the season.

While that might seem like ancient history at this point, how Soto handled it then — and how he responded to it after that season — might go a long way toward explaining why he appears on the verge of becoming one of the elite catchers in the game.

‘‘It hit me as a person — that really affected me emotionally,’’ said Soto, who called the incident ‘‘isolated’’ and ‘‘embarrassing’’ at the time. ‘‘But I had to accept it and push forward.’’

Less than two weeks after the test result was revealed, Soto strained an oblique muscle. He missed the next month, and his sophomore season was ignominious history.

‘‘It was tough,’’ he said.

But his response was tougher. Soto showed up to camp last year in better shape, and despite playing through shoulder issues much of the year, he had the top offensive season among major-league catchers, measured by on-base-plus-slugging (.890).

‘‘He’s a first-class guy, a strong-character guy,’’ general manager Jim Hendry said. ‘‘[The positive test] bothered him a lot. You could tell the remorse was legit. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, the way he handles himself.’’

Soto might not be done growing as a player. After ‘‘clean-out’’ surgery on that ailing shoulder last September, ‘‘he’s as good [throwing] as I’ve ever seen him,’’ said manager Mike Quade, who had Soto at Class  AAA for two seasons before joining the Cubs’ coaching staff in 2007.

‘‘He’s probably a guy we should have been talking about more than we have all spring,’’ added Quade, who’s eying Soto as a potential No. 5 hitter against lefties this season and a potential every-day middle-order hitter if his hitting trend continues.

Makes you wonder where Soto might be now if not for the sophomore setback — and whether that setback is now a major reason for his potential breakout, his significant leadership position as a fourth-year player, his chances for a multi-year contract by the end of the year and his role in the Cubs’ pitching success.

‘‘You can’t lose sight of how important that position is,’’ Quade said. ‘‘And his enthusiasm for his own game also carries over for those guys on the mound. They have a lot of confidence in him.’’

Soto said a positive mind-set is essential.

‘‘You can’t just get stuck in it,’’ he said. ‘‘You run into a problem, and you have to overcome it and be like, ‘Hey, I can get stuck here and sulk or just stand up like a man and face the problem like a man, going forward.’

‘‘That’s what I did, and luckily that’s behind me now, and I had a great season last year. And this season I want to better it.’’



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